No-Bake Cheesecake with Unstoppable Cherry Coulis

February 17, 2011

My fellow Heavenly Cake Bakers will understand what I mean when I say that I got free choice week and quail egg indulgence cake week mixed up. I suppose I’ll have to make the quail egg indulgence cake next week, or indulge in another free choice. Hmmm…

I decided to make the no-bake cheesecake for “free choice” because my gluten-free cousin was visiting and I wanted to include him in the fun, as opposed to devouring a heavenly, flour-based layer cake while he watched. The no-bake cheesecake takes the least amount of time because it doesn’t need to chill overnight, like other baked cheesecakes, so it was an obvious choice considering the procrastination factor–we had just enough time to enjoy a slice before I took him to the airport.

I’ve only just started to scratch the surface of gluten-free baking, and I prefer to approach it by preparing recipes that contain no flour instead of fooling around with xanthan gum. Someday I’ll explore that realm, but this weekend was not that day. At this point, I’m also trying to avoid using store-bought gluten-free products as substitutes. For instance, the crust recipe for the no-bake cheesecake calls for graham crackers, which I’m sure exist in gluten-free format at my nearest Whole Foods, but I went in a different direction–pecans. I simply substituted an equal amount of pecans for the graham crackers, and the crust was absolutely beautiful and delicious. I also reduced the melted butter from five to four tablespoons because nuts are fattier than crackers. Finally, I added 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon to give it a subtle hint of coffee cake.

With the crust chilling in the oven, I moved on to the cheesecake filling. Rose developed this lighter-than-air specialty by employing whipped cream cheese in the tub instead of the usual block. There are some egg yolks and gelatin to hold it together, and finally, Italian meringue gets folded in for further fluff and stability. The finished product is like a tangy bowl of cheesecake mousse with bits of salted cinnamon pecan crust throughout. I say bowl because it was impossible for me to get a clean slice of this creamy cake.

I did run into a small problem when making the creme fraiche custard with gelatin, egg yolks and sugar. The last three ingredients didn’t properly incorporate and got a grainy, cornmeal-like quality. I’m pointing the finger at the egg yolks, which may have needed more time at room temperature before getting underway. I would have remade it, but I didn’t have enough creme fraiche. Speaking of creme fraiche, I would encourage everyone to watch South Park’s brilliant sendup of the Food Network. (I just watched the entire episode again while inserting this link.)

But enough about the cake, let’s talk about the cherry coulis. I knew that Steve would not give this cake the time of day if I didn’t top  it with some fruit. Rose follows the cake recipe with a simple cherry coulis, but if you continue reading on to the variation, the cherry vanilla coulis, that, my friends, is where it’s at. Madeira, balsamic vinegar, vanilla and butter? Yes, please.

I didn’t think it was wise to trust the “fresh” cherries at this time of year, so I bought one of Steve’s faves, the Trader Joe’s dark Morello cherries. I weighed out a little over a pound of cherries and syrup and heated them on the stove with 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch and a pinch of salt. Obviously, it wasn’t necessary to add sugar. After they boiled for about seven minutes and slightly thickened, I added 1 1/2 tablespoons of Madeira, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Now, this is where things get really exciting. Rose suggests adding two tablespoons of butter for extra richness, but I say, I’ll see your butter, Rose, and raise you BROWN BUTTER. Brown butter makes any fruit sauce taste like pie filling that has already been baked inside the pie. It is amazing! I’m not even a cherry lover, but within seconds, I went from tasting this cherry coulis to eating it like a soup.

This cake seems like it wouldn’t be absolutely spectacular, but it is. Once you take the first bite, it is incredibly hard to put down the spoon. It’s like eating cherries on a cloud of love. And I have to say, I don’t feel so bad for the gluten-free amongst us anymore. This life ain’t so bad.

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